John T. Willis

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Like every other person on earth, I have a background. I was born on 21 November 1933 at the Hendrick Hospital in Abilene, Texas. At that time, my parents were school teachers at Abilene High School. My father taught math, and my mother taught music. In all, I had three siblings: a younger brother, Dickson; a younger brother, Ernest Albert; and a sister, who died at birth. Unfortunately, I do not know her name. When I was about eight years of age, all of us came down with a very serious epidemic of some sort, and Ernest Albert died when he was about three years of age.

My early memories are that we went to church sporadically, usually at the Presbyterian Church. This is because my grandfather was a Presbyter at the Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, Texas. We usually attended the Central Presbyterian Church in Abilene. I remember that the Pastor was E. B. Surface. I thought of him very highly. My parents sometimes sang in the Presbyterian choir in Abilene. Both of them were good singers. My father attended ACC [Abilene Christian College] from 1924 to 1928, when he graduated. In those years, he was in a quartet, which they called themselves the Four W Quartet, because their names were: Ernest Witt, Ernest Walls, Albert Walls, and Cullen Willis. They would travel all over West Texas singing at churches and encouraging young people to come to ACC.

When I was eight years old, the Second World War broke out on 7 December, 1941 at the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Immediately, all of us were very fearful. We had to use rations because the food was very skimpy. Each community would share our resources. In a year or so later, my father was drafted as a civilian teacher in the US Air Force in Stamford, Texas. We lived there a year or so. We were surrounded by military people. I do not remember much about those days, but I know that all of us were focused on the terrible war situation.

When we returned to Abilene, in about 1946, the Central Presbyterian Church held a two week youth rally. On the last day, Dr. Surface approached me and said, Don't you think that you need to be baptized. Obviously, I was 13 years of age. Unfortunately, I had never heard of baptism. So I went to my parents. My parents went to Dr. Surface and asked him HOW he wanted me to be baptized. He said he can do this by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion; any of those is acceptable. For some unknown reason, my parents were not satisfied with that answer. The next several months, we church hopped all over Abilene. We attended Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian. At one point, we went to the Highland Church of Christ. After quite a bit of study, prayer, and reflection, we decided to be baptized by immersion at Highland in late 1947.

In 1947-1951 I was in High School at Abilene High School. At that time, there was no Cooper High School. During those years, I attended numerous youth activities and events. Jay and Jo Bass played an important role in our development. One of my teachers at Highland was Ray McGlothlin. Others made a great impact on us.

In 1951, I entered ACC. At first, I thought I would be a math teacher. Math was easy for me. But one of my professors, J. D. Thomas, told me that if I could learn math, I could learn Greek. So, as a Freshman, I got interested in Greek. This led me to major in Greek when I graduated in 1955. I was beginning to realize that Hebrew is also very important for Bible studies, so I studied Hebrew, and I got my graduate degree in 1956 in Old Testament=Hebrew Bible. I realized that I came in the back door. I learned the Bible by becoming interested in Greek and Hebrew.

In 1956, I had the opportunity to become a teacher for the very first time at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee. I met and married Evelyn Forrest on 27 January 1956. Between January 1957 and 1960 we had three boys and one girl.

I will continue much more about these matters, but in this blog, I want to emphasize briefly only one point about the church in those early days in Abilene.

The emphasis at that time is that The Church of Christ is THE ONLY CHURCH acceptable to God. All the preachers made TWO main points: each divided into FIVE specific thoughts.

1. To become a Christian, one must obey these FIVE RULES of OBEDIENCE. All preachers used the following Bible verses to support this view.
    a. HEAR the gospel. Romans 10:14.
    b. BELIEVE the gospel. Romans 10:9, 14.
    c. REPENT of all former sins. Acts 2:38; 3:19.
    d. CONFESS. [Here it was not clear whether this meant: Confess of all a person's former sins-- James 5:16; Confess that Jesus Christ is Lord--Romans 10:9].
    e. BE BAPTIZED [which meant ONLY IMMERSION] so that one's sins might be washed away. Acts 2:38; 8:36-39; 22:16.
Everyone focused on these terms without knowing anything at all about their meaning. For example, "hearing" and "believing" were essentially ignored as if everyone know what these entailed.

2. When one becomes a Christian, one must follow FIVE ACTS OF WORSHIP. All of these were clearly external acts which anyone could perform.
     a. Pray.
     b. Partake of the Lord's Supper. All the people must share in unleavened bread and grape juice, not wine.
     c. Sing. This had to be vocal only, not instrumental.
     d. Receive a sermon from an acceptable preacher.
     e. Give in the weekly contribution.
Occasionally, a preacher would give a sermon on godly living, but there was a very strong emphasis AGAINST the so-called "Social Gospel." There was clear distinction between religious activities and helping people outside religious activities. So, many churches loudly publicly OPPOSED having orphanages, the Salvation Army to help the homeless and needy people, and any "institution" to help in a social sense.

We knew almost nothing about the Bible except chapters and verses, usually totally out of context. We were taught to get a red pen and mark passages in the Bible starting with Romans 10:14, then move to Mark 16:16, etc. In those days, someone created the Jules Miller Video Series. This was divided into five segments, and we were told to go to non Church of Christ people to try to persuade them to follow this series to become a Christian. This series was essentially as described above.

We will continue this from blog to blog.

Share YOUR background and experiences and changes and reversals and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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